The writer of Jurassic Park. The director of Speed. The star of Mad About You. The quaint Clinton-era notion that a major action blockbuster could be produced with, as the major antagonist, an atmospheric condition and not swarthy terrorists from the Middle East or France. Twister is so 1990s it hurts, but the pain isn’t nearly as exquisite as revisiting a movie you once, for any number of pubescent reasons, loved as a child and now realize is a whirling roar of detritus. When the movie came out, the traditional 1980s model blockbuster appeared to be on its last legs. Shit like Last Action Hero and Waterworld made the idea of a central masculine anchor, be he mountainously monolithic or sensitively willowy, seem as ruinous as letting a young Turk hotshot direct your studio’s big epic did in the early 1980s during the aftermath of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate. (James Cameron would end up reversing this trend quickly enough with Titanic.)
So Twister, at least as it seemed at first, was a film with an almost experimental lack of dramatic conflict. The barebones version of the storyline (which is to say, the one-sentence version of a plot that would already be oversold with three sentences) is that a group of storm chasers spend an unusually active day out in the wilds of Oklahoma and Kansas trying to hunt down a tornado so they can impregnate it with their little data-gathering science balls and study the mechanics of what makes the storms spin. Essentially, Twister is an anthology film, with each of the five storm sequences having its own unique tenor and with the connective tissue being treated as a total afterthought. Ballsy, but refreshing, right? But no matter how much Jan De Bont keeps his camera roving, and no matter how much superfluous technobabble Michael Crichton tosses into the screenplay to indirectly remind the audience of his Harvard pedigree, the DNA of the blockbuster isn’t so easily spliced and reconfigured.
Because tornados aren’t inherently evil (despite the sound crew’s attempts to make it so by overlaying the sound of braying animals into the overall texture for the twisters; if it sounds alive, you can more easily hate it), a band of sellouts posing as professional scientists were introduced by the filmmakers to race against Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton’s motley band of Sherwood Forest potheads and meteorology school dropouts, having ripped off the design for Paxton’s tornado balls. (If that’s not enough to make them stand shoulder with the Iraqi terrorists and curvy corporate bitches of its brother action pictures, the rival scientists also drive a caravan of jet-black minivans like a land-based Star Wars-ian Dark Side.) Add to that a love triangle between Hunt, Paxton, and Jami Gertz, and you’ve got enough artificial, test screening-generated “content” to blow down even Philip Seymour Hoffman’s reliably overzealous scene-hoggery. When it sticks to kinetically portraying the sheer oddness of the tornadic phenomenon, Twister is a breeze. When it tries to recreate Hawks, it falls gracelessly from the green sky.
The transfer is good enough to reveal that even effects that seemed, at the time, ahead of the curve next to the corny models and toys of Independence Day, have not held up. It's a tricky transfer, admittedly, and gets major points for not cluttering up the twister debris with digital debris. The colors seem a little weak, but they did in the theater too, thanks to Jan De Bont's strategy of overlighting scenes to create an artificial stormy hue. The active, terrifying, wide-ranged surround sound is, obviously, the reason such systems were invented. And if it drowns out the dialogue, well, that just sweetens the deal.
Jan De Bont is no Werner Herzog, and neither does his commentary track come anywhere close to the majesty or candor to be found on a Herzog track. Short on gossip for a production that was rumored to be pretty grueling and at times dangerous and contentious, this is your standard commentary track. In fact, it's actually recycled from the previous edition. The second disc contains tornado-obsessive featurettes and makings-of both new and old. The best of the bunch is a slightly newer piece from the History Channel. Fans of the film will probably most appreciate a brand-new retrospective making-of feature. And idiots will probably stick to the Van Halen video.
An anorexic premise could've been a great and unusual disaster film if only Twister had taken the courage to keep everything pared down.